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A Beginner’s Guide to AI SEO

What Is AI SEO?

AI SEO means using artificial intelligence (AI) for tasks related to improving your website’s visibility in organic search results.

AI-based tools can speed up time-consuming but necessary SEO tasks. Like generating content ideas and outlines. Or new schema for your website.

The result?

You get your work done faster. And have the bandwidth to focus more on your overall SEO strategy.

AI tools can quickly do these kinds of tasks because of their machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) abilities. These two elements let software analyze tons of information and provide recommendations based on their “learned” understanding.

Platforms like ChatGPT are also changing how searchers expect to interact with search engines. Because of the back-and-forth interaction between humans and software, the search experience is becoming more conversational.

That means natural language queries (e.g., “give me 10 ideas for a new blog post”) could begin to compete with keyword-based strategies.

Further reading: 9 Tips for How to Bring AI into Your SEO and Content Strategy

AI SEO Isn’t New–But the Hype Surrounding It is

While the buzz around AI seems to have taken off in the past few years, AI has actually played an important part in SEO for a long time.

Case in point: Google has been developing and using AI for SEO for more than two decades. For instance, the company built its Google Lens and Google Translate features entirely from AI technologies.

Now, the company has its own Google AI page describing its latest work in this area. 

Image Source: Google AI

And behind the scenes, Google employees are working on Project Magi. This initiative was launched to better leverage AI to make the Google Search experience more personalized and conversational.

In short, AI has been on the scene for a while. But now, these kinds of intuitive AI tools (especially generative AI) are more advanced and more accessible than ever to marketers. 

It’s much easier for small businesses and others with limited spending power (e.g., influencers, freelancers, small marketing teams, etc.) to optimize content as well as their larger competitors.

And with AI’s time-saving potential and impact on search engine marketing’s evolution, you need to get familiar with these tools and processes so you can stay competitive.

Say you need to create an outline for some SEO content. Even forming a logical narrative about a topic you know well takes time when you do it manually—it requires focus and contemplation.

Or you can outsource that initial brainstorming to a generative AI tool, which will do the “contemplation” for you.

For example, you can tell Anthropic’s Claude the themes you’d like to cover and ask it to suggest the most logical outline for your content.

You might ask the tool something like this, including your article topic, the primary keyword, and important themes:

Asking Anthropic’s Claude to structure an article you're planning to write about

In response to our example prompt, Claude offered the following advice:

Claude’s response to a prompt asking it to structure an article

In seconds, we got the basic foundations of an article outline. 

From there, we could tweak the order and details to create something truly original and valuable to our audience.

"SEO Recommendations" dashboard in the SEO Content Template tool

5 Key Ways to Apply AI SEO (Other Than Content Creation)

So many SEOs and content marketers are just using AI to write content briefs, outlines, and drafts. 

And while AI SEO writing tools can play a key role in your SEO strategy, you can leverage the technology in plenty of other ways, too.

Here are five AI SEO use cases that take manual, time-consuming tasks off your plate:

1. Keyword Research

Properly conducted keyword research helps you:

  • Find search terms that your target audience frequently uses
  • Better understand your target audience
  • Tailor your content strategy to the needs of your audience
  • Drive more relevant organic traffic to your website

You can speed up all three stages of keyword research—finding, analyzing, and implementing keywords—with AI-based tools.

Take Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool. Using a database of 25 billion keywords, it automatically gives you suggestions for keywords to use in your content. And lets you quickly filter by elements like search intent, search volume, keyword difficulty (KD%), and more.

Here’s how to use it:

Enter a broad topic (seed keyword) relevant to your business and hit “Search.”

"cable organizers" entered into the Keyword Magic Tool search bar

Explore the suggested groups and subgroups of related topics on the left to find long-tail keywords you can target. 

Groups and subgroups highlighted for "cable organizers" in Keyword Magic Tool

These are highly specific search queries that can help drive targeted traffic to your site.

Use the filters to look for results with high search volumes and lower KD% ratings. Targeting these popular but less competitive terms should help you generate traffic faster.

And check out the Questions filter for question-based search terms. For example, “how to organize cables.” This will help you find engaging topics for search-friendly “how-to” guides.

"Questions" filter highlighted in the Keyword Magic Tool

In this example, “how to organize cables for storage” looks like a winner:

“how to organize cables for storage” result highlighted in the Keyword Magic Tool table

It ranks second for search volume and has a 33% keyword difficulty. This is lower than the average 47% of these results. 

Once you’ve picked a keyword, click on it to access the Keyword Overview tool. Here, you dive deeper into info about your chosen term, like keyword variations and a search engine results page (SERP) analysis of the top-ranking content for that keyword.

2. Content Optimization

Content optimization is how you make sure your existing content has the best possible chance of achieving its intended goal. Like ranking in the SERPs to generate as much targeted organic traffic as possible.

Say you’ve been working hard to build up lots of blog posts related to your product. But you aren’t getting the traffic you expected.

You could manually dig into why individual pieces aren’t ranking. Like analyzing Google Analytics reports and auditing your distribution channels. And then try to revamp the content yourself.

Or you could let an AI tool show you exactly how you can boost your content quality.

Semrush’s SEO Writing Assistant is a smart writing editor with AI-powered, real-time recommendations that help writers and marketers optimize their content for engagement and search performance.

Semrush’s SEO Writing Assistant editor

Instead of spending hours finding the right target keywords or proofreading your article, AI suggests almost instant fixes.

Over half (53%) of the marketers we surveyed saw engagement increase after optimizing content. While 49% said their rankings and traffic improved.

AI SEO tools can help you get there.

Semrush's survey responses to "Which results did you achieve after updating your content?" question

Keep notes for your long-term AI SEO strategy when auditing and optimizing existing content for search. And use what you learn to guide future content creation efforts.

Regular backlink analysis helps you boost this key ranking factor.

How?

By finding potential new, high-quality sources in your competitors’ backlink profiles. 

The manual route involves scouring the internet for sites that link back to you and competitor brands. But AI-powered backlink analytics or link building tools can save you from this time-intensive task.

With the largest database of backlinks among similar companies, our Backlink Analytics tool quickly compares your backlink profile with your competitors’ in one user-friendly dashboard. 

Enter your chosen web page’s URL. Then, hit “Analyze.” 

"nike.com" entered into the Backlink Analytics tool search bar

You’ll see an Overview dashboard filled with useful data points, such as:

  • Authority Score (how we evaluate the quality of backlinks)
  • Referring domains
  • Total backlinks
  • New and lost backlinks
Backlink Analytics overview dashboard for "nike.com"

You can click on the blue number underneath each metric to expand the details for each category.

Then, to compare your report to your competitors’, click the “Add competitor” text box under “Root Domain.” The tool will suggest competitors with similar backlink profiles to yours. But you can add your own in, too.

Competitors suggested for "nike.com" in Backlink Analytics tool

Hit “Compare” and you’ll get a report like this:

Backlink Analytics report comparing "nike.com" and "adidas.com"

In addition to comparing the metrics found in your first report, you’ll see comparisons of: 

  • Backlink Types
  • Link Attributes
  • Top Categories of Referring Domains
"Backlink Types," "Link Attributes," and "Top Categories of Referring Domains" sections highlighted in Backlink Analytics tool

Use these data points to gauge the effectiveness of your and your competitors’ link building campaigns. And find new sources of backlinks—sources that your competitors already have links from.

We update our backlink database constantly with machine learning-led algorithms, so you can make strategic decisions using accurate AI-powered information.

4. Schema Markup Creation

Schema markup, or structured data, is code that helps search engines recognize and display rich results instead of plain text results. 

For example, the “book” markup gives Google a book’s synopsis, author, and publication date. 

Instead of regular text, Google then presents that info on the SERP like this:

A rich snipper on Google SERP, showing a book's preview for "This Is Marketing" book by Seth Godin

Google uses schema markup to identify 31 content types (e.g., recipes, how-to guides, events, and FAQs). So it can serve up more enticing, relevant results and helpful snippets.

Important:

There’s no hard evidence that your schema markup affects how you rank. But displaying your content in more visually compelling ways can help draw in more readers.

However, writing and implementing schema markup can be a daunting, drawn-out process.

Why?

Because you need to add back-end code to your website. And if you’re not already familiar with coding, it can be really difficult.

This is where generative AI tools come up. They can create the code for you.

Take Jasper’s FAQ Schema Generator.

Open Jasper and select the “Chat” option.

“Chat” option selected from Jasper's menu

In this example, we asked Jasper to create an FAQ schema markup for us. Just tell it to “generate X schema markup based on the following.” Then type in the text you want displayed.

A prompt asking Jasper to create an FAQ schema markup

The tool responded almost immediately:

Jasper's response, providing a FAQ schema markup

Then, all you have to do is copy and paste that code into the HTML of your chosen web page. You can do this through your content management system (CMS)). 

And, boom. Search engines can now show your content as a rich card or snippet that stands out to searchers.

5. Automation

By using AI to automate repetitive SEO tasks, you’ll free up time for more high-level, creative work. Like focusing on your overall SEO strategy and execution.

While human input and oversight remain essential, AI SEO tools can handle many of the repetitive admin tasks that slow you down.

Take Semrush’s Market Explorer. It’s a content intelligence tool that automates the important task of tracking competitors and your place in your industry. 

Semrush’s proprietary AI algorithm scrapes the internet and then processes raw data, presenting real but anonymized users in its reports.

After you type in your domain and your competitors’ domains, the Market Explorer dashboard will show you your market size and shares. And you can set competitive benchmarks to objectively evaluate your performance over time.

Market Explorer overview dashboard for "Financial Services"

ChatGPT is another great example.

Its NLP capabilities let it check keyword lists for relevancy.

Without it, you’d have to trawl through the internet manually and search every keyword’s intent. And whether it’s aligned with your company’s offers.

We asked ChatGPT to check a list of keywords related to cable organizers.

A prompts asking ChatGPT to check a list of keywords related to cable organizers

As a test, we included a few keywords we knew weren’t relevant but still blended in: 

  • “Best cable TV company” 
  • “Best cable TV subscription”
  • “How to cancel a cable subscription”

And ChatGPT came back with some helpful information on each keyword’s relevancy to our SEO campaign. And flagged those three keywords for being irrelevant: 

ChatGPT's response to a prompt asking it to check a list of keywords related to cable organizers

And here’s what we got when we asked it to dig deeper into keyword difficulty:

ChatGPT's response to a follow-up question "Which of these keywords will be the easiest to rank for?"

Take time to play around with Market Explorer, ChatGPT, and other AI SEO technologies like it to see how you can automate and optimize different workflows.

3 AI SEO Best Practices for Beginners

When starting to use AI SEO tools, remember: they’re not catch-all solutions. 

The key is to use them to enhance your work processes. Not as total substitutes.

With that in mind, here are three best practices to help you maximize your use of AI SEO tech.

1. Figure Out Where AI Can Help Humans the Most 

You don’t want to just blindly use AI for everything. Consider where you and your team actually need support.

When first integrating AI into your SEO strategy, identify tasks that: 

  • Slow you or your team down
  • Align with AI’s strengths

From there, you can determine where AI logically fits into your workflows.

Utilizing AI technology to analyze large datasets for keyword research, identify content gaps, or monitor user behavior on your website can help human marketers make smarter decisions.

For example, your team might be struggling to stay on top of traffic analytics reporting. And since AI excels at data analysis, pattern recognition, and automation, it would be a smart move to start using it to surface trends.

Then, your team has more time to think through how to apply those insights to improve your SEO. Instead of getting caught up manually generating them.

Further reading: 11 Best AI Assistants for Marketers

2. Be as Specific as Possible and Experiment with Different Prompts 

AI tools aren’t perfect. But the more you use them, the better they can understand and surface what you’re looking for.

Why? 

Because the prompts and input data you give them influence the relevance and accuracy of their results. Through continuous testing and tweaking, you can better “train” AI to meet your SEO needs. 

For example, ChatGPT lets you add “Custom instructions.”

Just click your profile name in the bottom left of the ChatGPT window and select “Custom instructions.

“Custom instructions" selected from the ChatGPT menu

Then add the specifics in the text boxes, like this:

“Custom instructions" window in ChatGPT

The more detailed you can be with your input, the stronger the AI’s output will be.

3. Continue to Involve Humans When Using AI SEO Tools

AI can expedite content production. But you still need people to review what it creates.

AI can’t bring the same nuances and context to the page that humans can. And there’s always the potential for errors that an algorithm might miss.

Regularly review and refine any AI-generated content to ensure it’s accurate, relevant, and aligns with your brand voice and quality standards. And always check for plagiarism.

Semrush’s Managing Editor Alex Lindley explains: 

Whether you’re asking AI to help you create content or complete any other SEO task, interrogate the output: Is it helpful? Is it high-quality? Does it adhere to Google’s guidelines? If the answer to any of those questions is no, make changes until the answer is yes.

Further reading: The Best AI Tools for Copywriting for 2023

AI in SEO: What Does the Future Hold?

According to a McKinsey survey, the most commonly reported uses of generative AI tools are in marketing and sales. 

And as Semrush Content Writing Manager Ana Camarena notes, marketers who bring careful discernment when using AI SEO tools will benefit the most:

Knowing how to use AI is important,” she said. But I believe what’s key is to know what you shouldn’t use it for. AI—and, specifically, ChatGPT—is not the solution to all things SEO. Even if some marketers are treating it as such.
For instance: When using ChatGPT to conduct keyword research, it’s common to get incorrect search volumes or zero-volume keywords (it’s a much better idea to use our Keyword Magic Tool). When using it to write articles, you’ll probably get factually incorrect content that doesn’t follow Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines and doesn’t satisfy search intent.

The bottom line?

AI shouldn’t replace skilled SEOs, content marketers, and editors. 

AI tools for SEO can definitely support your optimization efforts. But ultimately, humans still need to be involved to bring experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (the “E-E-A-T” Camarena mentions above) to the page.

Lindley sums it up: 

Let AI generate ideas. And let humans choose the best ones.

Every marketing team has different needs. The AI software that works for one person might not work for you. And that’s totally fine.

Learn how to build your strategic SEO tech stack with our guides to the best AI-powered tools: 

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